“Small-dollar” expenditure

by  Bob Alviani, Chairman, Venturans for Responsible & Efficient Government’

Complaining about how Ventura spends tax money is like complaining about the weather. Everyone talks about it, but nobody does anything about it.

You trust city officials would spend it as though it comes out of their own pockets. However, many believe that City officials view tax revenue as an endless faucet spewing money.

So, we rely on our elected officials to question spending when necessary. The following example illustrates how dysfunctional the oversight has become.

At a recent meeting, the City of Ventura Finance Committee considered a “small-dollar” expenditure. The Finance Department wants to spend $29,600 per year on outsourcing the opening of payment envelopes and processing of water bills.

Currently, Ventura Water sends water bills every two months and when payment is made, city personnel open envelopes and process the payments through the bank. The City will soon change to send out water bills monthly. Since Ventura will change to monthly billing, the outsourcing costs would double to $59,200.

The city’s finance staff justified outsourcing this service to improve cash flow and increase efficiency. The staff did not discuss or offer any evidence on just how they would be more efficient if adopted.

Only two City Councilmembers attended the committee meeting.

A citizen asked how much money we would save and how many staff people would be reduced or redeployed. The initial reply was the cost savings would be “minuscule.” When pressed to define minuscule, the staff member was unprepared to provide numbers. When pressed about changes in staffing, the answer was “none.”

That should cause every tax payer in this city to express concerns about the issues surrounding this spending proposal and by extension any plans to spend tax money regardless of the amount:

Why would any staff member ask for $29,600 per year and not support the request with time and cost savings?

Why didn’t the City Council members ask the hard questions about time and cost savings?

If the city wasn’t planning to reduce staff, what would these staff employees do instead of opening envelopes and processing payments? How would they be more productive in their new duties?

You may be asking, “Why so focused on one instance such as this?” After all, it’s only $29,600 today. But soon, it’s going to double to $59,200. We must remind ourselves of Benjamin Franklin’s admonition — “Watch the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

In this case $29,600 doubles within the year. No City Councilmember noted or questioned the expense.

Why? Have our elected City Council members have become complacent? Do they trust staff

recommendations unquestionably? Or, are they no longer concerned about how they spend our tax dollars?

No matter the reason, the City Council has to stop looking at taxpayers as an endless faucet from which money flows. It’s time they started spending our tax money as if it was coming out of their own pockets, not some faceless person.

When pennies turn to dollars and dollars turn to thousands then turn to millions, who do YOU think they will look to for more money?

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